Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

23 January 2009

Disruption and Adaptation

Clark @ 3:21 PM

I was pointed by Harold Jarche to Dave Snowden talking about the coming age and the characteristics of what it will take. He documents a shift from mechanistic to systematic, and posits that the coming age is chaotic, requiring a new approach.  Dave terms this ‘praxis‘, a continual cycle of experimenting on the basis of theory and reflecting, rather than pre-determined approaches.

Harold wondered whether this counted as meta-learning, and I’d have to say yes.  You not only are looking at the outcomes of your intervention, but you’ve got to be paying attention to your process, and revising the theory and the practice as well as the problem-solving.  It may seem like an awful lot of overhead, but these skills become practiced, and the outcomes are far better in the long run.

Things aren’t slowing down.  I was reflecting earlier today on how quickly the ‘iClones‘ came after the announcement of the iPhone.  Things are moving faster, we’re being showered with more and more information, and asked to do more and more with less.  Most importantly, the fundamental game changes, where a whole industry is upended by a disruptive innovation, are getting so frequent that there is no longer a period in which to adapt to a steady state: change is the steady state.

Everything of any value at work will be adapting to change and solving problems. The processes you’d execute against will be out of date by the time they’re codified.  You’ll instead be applying frameworks, and monitoring the results while you refine the models and your approach.

At a personal level, this means meta-learning: learning on an ongoing basis, developing your learning skills and continually problem solving.  It’ll also mean collaborating, as it’s no longer sufficient to assume you can do it yourself; there’s power in numbers, when managed right.  So you’ll also have to develop and evolve not only personal learning, but learning to learn with others.  (That’s one of things Harold, Jay, Jane and I are working on via TogetherLearn.)

This naturally implies the skills of larger groups of people, and at the organizational level it means continuing to experiment as well, and providing the tools and the space to learn.  It also means being systematic and continuous about review.  (Doug Engelbart, ahead of the curve as always, has even suggested another level, where nodes of meta-learning collaborate to review the meta-learning!)

It’s attitudinal, too, as you’ve got to keep it from being scary, and let yourself remember that learning is fun.  As Raph Koster tells us, learning is fun (at least until we kill that thought with schooling).  So, let’s start having fun!


  1. Kia ora Clark

    I think your right, but it’s not that we have to put fun into learning. It is as you alluded. Schooling has taken the fun out of learning. I’ve always believed that fun is the natural companion to learning.

    There are a number of indicators in your post that shake my interest:

    – shift from mechanistic to systematic,

    – cycle of experimenting… …theory and reflecting,

    – change being the steady state,

    – adapting to change,

    – continuous learning to learn,

    – collaborating nodes of meta-learning.

    These attributes precisely describe a complexity system – its dynamic nature with no position of equilibrium, systematic and adaptive rather than mechanical, etc.

    The key main qualities of a complexity system are ability to transform, self-transforming, that is adaptive – and the synergy from the activity between and within its individual components, that is emergent.

    The study of complexity is relatively new. Communities of practice are what came to mind when I read what you said of the skills of larger groups of people and learning with others.

    I’ve déjà vu about all this. I’ve the strong impression that people working together in this way has been visited before in the history of human development, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years ago, when ‘community’ was essential for human survival.

    An analogy to the way we have worked and learned in the past is the development of the nuclear family – insular, dependent on self-sufficiency.

    Somehow I feel that ‘coming of age’ will embrace so much of this not-new way of growing, of learning, of working together. It may even mean the disappearance, from western civilisation, of the nuclear family as we know it today.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Comment by Ken Allan — 23 January 2009 @ 10:47 PM

  2. It’s rather remarkable to me how the internet era has reinforced some good things that should have been goals all along (ie, learning being fun) by making them both easier and more urgent. I feel very grateful to live now.

    Comment by Breanna Hite — 24 January 2009 @ 7:33 PM

  3. Ken, I think the notion that we’re returning to ways from the past is insightful, though I also reckon as we’ve spiralled back we have new ways and tools of knowing that make it a more informed approach. That is, in our ongoing dance between acting and reflecting, in the reflecting stage we have more powerful frameworks and tools to guide us both on our actions, and how we reflect on our actions.
    Breanna, yes, we’re definitely learning in ‘interesting times’. Sounds like you’ve got the right attitude!

    Comment by Clark — 26 January 2009 @ 8:46 AM

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